IdeaLab: Onward to an Innovative USC
Illustration by Geralden Moore
Academic year 2014-2015 saw the springing of inventive ideas from the minds of Carolinians and their transformation into groundbreaking projects inside the university: TEDx University of San Carlos, the first TEDx event in Visayas that spread ideas all around the institution; Warrior’s Turf, the movement that nurtured the Warrior spirit in each Carolinian; USC All Access, the pioneering media team that did not leave a trending event of the university uncovered; Service Starts Now, the campaign that effectively strengthened the power of the Carolinian vote during the recent Supreme Student Council elections; and many others. All of these events share a common denominator: they were driven by the wish to make USC a better place to be in. With this dream came the birth of IdeaLab.
IdeaLab, according to its Facebook page, is “an incubator community that enables students to become advocacy-driven innovators that can lead to a diverse and vibrant Carolinian community.” Bearing the full name The Laboratory for Ideas, Servant Leadership and Advocacies, IdeaLab aims to give hands-on support to students who plan to spearhead projects, campaigns, startups and movements solely devoted in creating a sustainable impact within the university.
It started with Miguel Antonio Garcia, a Carolinian alumnus who spent his college life serving as one of the first junior volunteers in USC Pathways, happy to be in an organization that has a noble cause but frustrated of the rareness of its kind, looking at the other organizations at that time who only contributed event-based projects. The dream of creating something that produced long-lasting effects to the university started to grow, but he dreaded the thought that challenging the recurring system would be difficult. He graduated and left to pursue graduate studies outside the country, leaving the dream behind before it got the chance to be in full blossom.
However, happenings fell into place. Pathways was nationally recognized as one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations in the Philippines last year. Garcia got invited to be one of the speakers during the first event of TEDx University of San Carlos — The Butterfly Effect — making him go back to the university and see the efforts of the TEDxUSanCarlos team and the newly-established USC All Access. He felt hopeful again of a Carolinian body who crave a livelier, more meaningful college experience. The hope was fueled further by three succeeding events: the impending tuition fee increase that made Garcia notice the lack of avenue for students to understand the reasons behind the increase; the radical Service Starts Now campaign of the USC Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for the 2015 SSC Elections; and Marc Ong’s campaign advocacy for a “colorless SSC” that helped him win the presidential seat. All of these finally drove Garcia to reach out to the said initiatives and propose the creation of a community that helped one another in creating and supporting ideas and transforming them into something concrete. Now, with Garcia by its side as mentor, IdeaLab is led by a core team headed by Carolinian student Bryant Gonzales — who was the lead organizer of TEDxUSanCarlos during its beginnings — and is seeking to aid partner organizations and individuals, called Fellows, in developing ideas and making them concrete through its Fellowship Program.
The Fellowship Program is inspired from the design thinking approach advocated by design company IDEO and the Stanford Institute of Design. The program involves the Inspiration, Ideation, and Prototyping of the ideas of the Fellows in the first semester of the year and the implementation of those ideas through their pilot projects in the second semester. Partners of the community will be there to mentor and to collaborate with the Fellows in their projects. However, IdeaLab, while still in its early stage, emphasizes on designing projects that are cheap and easy to implement but have significant impactl to the Carolinian community.
“We encourage our Fellows to think local and to seriously consider the end-users and stakeholders involved in the project. At the very onset, we encourage them to keep the design of the project to be very simple and intuitive so that anyone can pick it up and learn from it on their own. I personally believe that a key to a long-lasting project is a simple design with a clear understanding of the end-users or stakeholders,” Garcia said.
IdeaLab supports programs and advocacies under the following themes: We are Warriors, which aims to unleash and celebrate the Carolinian identity; Nerd Culture, which fosters an intellectual and engaging student life in college; Connecting Communities, which seeks to unite communities inside and outside USC to create a significant change; and Cebu as a Classroom, which will integrate projects, movements and advocacies to the greater Cebuano community.
This year, IdeaLab is welcome to Fellows who already have well-thought projects and ideas that they want to implement. At the same time, the community is going to implement an assessment inventory for all current organizations in the university to check on what areas they have the potential to collaborate with one another. In 2016, IdeaLab is going to fully establish the Fellowship Program, where students can master the art of design thinking and seek full support from partner organizations and experts in implementing their projects.
IdeaLab is currently facilitating projects by some Carolinians, which are mostly online-based and educational-related. EvalueLine, the project initially done to assess performance of the candidates during the recent SSC elections, is now helped out by the Lab in expanding its scope of service to a variety of student-related issues and topics. IdeaLab is also collaborating with USC Pathways in enhancing its Bridging the Gap program by improving its curriculum and hopefully providing online services to partner schools. IdeaLab also hopes to keep its partnership with USC COMELEC on its Service Starts Now campaign as it collects data not only related to university elections, but also tackling on local and national elections. This will serve as a guide to improve voter campaign strategies for the upcoming 2016 elections.
IdeaLab is also in the process of studying an open organization program, where student organizations in USC can submit student organization forms online. This is to make submitting forms more convenient for organizations and to provide an up-to-date assessment of the organizations to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA).
Additionally, IdeaLab is planning to host events for 2015-2016, such as Connect2Play, the second season of TEDxUSanCarlos, Ignite Cebu, Dream Expo Cebu, and Beyond Predictions.
What is remarkable from this budding community of student leaders is it focuses on the development of its partner organizations and its Fellows as they spearhead projects all for the sake of innovating the system in USC. Part of its corporate policy is the self-disqualification of participating student organizations from the The Outstanding Campus Student Organization (TOCSO) award by OSA, in order to get rid of the hindrance of “owning” projects for the sake of award points. The community challenges the notion of settling for one initiative to implement a project when more of them can come together to make it happen.
“It is also our policy reform agenda in nudging our university to rethink its incentive system of awards. It is not based on the thickness of the bidbook, but by the quality of your initiative in enriching the Carolinian community,” Garcia noted. “We feel that by taking this example, we can show organizations that advocacy-based initiatives, not activity-based ones, are the key to enliven our campus life.”
Garcia also added, “Our advantage in the Lab that no other organization on campus has actually done is that we can inspire people by example, and we can show them the tangible outputs with our prototype projects. From experience, it is exciting to actually see something visually that has the potential to change users, systems or mindsets for the better.”
It’s about time, Carolinians.
For those who are interested to be part of IdeaLab, the community is accessible through their Facebook page: IdeaLab.ph.